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Wed 20 Jan 2010 02:30 AM

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Saudi Aramco's Ras Tanura refinery restarts smoothly

Kingdom's largest refinery was shut down for 45 days and returned on schedule.

Saudi Aramco has offered its first fuel oil cargo from the Ras Tanura refinery in three months, indicating a 45 day shutdown of its 550,000 barrels per day plant is over on schedule, traders said on Wednesday.

The 90,000 tonne A961 parcel, of 180 centistoke (cst), viscosity, is for loading Feb 7 to 9 on a free on board (FOB) basis. Offers are expected by late Wednesday and a deal is expected a day later.

A Singapore based Western trader said: "With this offer, Aramco is showing that the normally troublesome Ras Tanura has returned without a hitch, unlike previous times when it always had problems restarting the hydrocracker."

He added: "This time round, Aramco did not shut down the hydrocracker,that's why the refinery was restarted smoothly."

The 325,000 bpd Crude Distillation Unit (CDU) at Ras Tanura refinery, the kingdom's largest, was shutdown in early December and was restarted a few days ago, traders said.

Aramco last sold a similar parcel, for Nov 10 to 12 loading, to France's Total at a premium of $1.50 to $2.50 a tonne to Singapore spot quotes, FOB.

With Ras Tanura back online, Aramco's fuel oil supplies are expected to be back to normal volumes of up to 500,000 tonnes a month, up from just about 350,000 tonnes for this month.

This is its second February loading fuel oil lot, with the first being 80,000 tonnes of 380-cst, for Feb 5 to 7 lifting from Jubail, FOB, which was offered last Friday.

Outflows from Saudi Arabia, which includes the high 650 cst viscosity parcels sold by ExxonMobil, has been thin for this month at 350,000 to 400,000 tonnes, less than the half a million tonnes sold for each of the past three months.

The additional supplies will dampen market sentiment that has been supported by low Western arbitrage flows for January and February at six month low volumes of 2.8 to 2.9 million tonnes, below the 3.5 to 3.7 million tonnes seen for each month from September to December.

Reflecting the strength, fuel oil's prompt February crack was valued at a discount of above $3.00 a barrel for three straight sessions and closed at minus $2.49. (Reuters)

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